Thursday, May 23, 2013

Miles for Melanoma 5k - May 2013

May 2013
1st Place Overall!! Lots of prizes!!

With four second place overall finishes already under my belt in 2013, it was time to break through and finally win one.  I was looking for a fast 5k course to run this weekend.  The Miles for Melanoma 5k is a new race this year, which I had found out about through the school where I teach.  The mother of a former student at my school had actually suffered from Melanoma, but recovered.  So, she decided to organize this race to raise money and awareness.

The race began in Vienna, near the train on the WO&D Trail.  The course begins on Ayr Hill Road.  You run about 100 meters before making a right turn onto the trail.  Then you just stay on the trail until the half way point, turn around and come back to finish.  There is a slight, gradual decline on the way out and (obviously) a slight, gradual incline on the way back.  I have run this course before in two previous races, and finished in about 18:55 both times.  I knew from experience that it was a fairly fast course, despite the incline on the second half.

I really didn't have a good concept of what I could do in a 5k at this point. A few weeks earlier, I ran the Run Me Home 5k in the high 18s - but that was just 6 days after setting a 10k PR and not well-rested.  Then, just one week ago, I ran a slow (for me) 19:25 on a VERY hilly course at the Lane PTA 5k.  So, I still didn't really know exactly what I could do in a 5k, but I thought I should be somewhere in the low 18s under the right conditions.  I wanted to really go after it today and see what I was capable of.  The weather, however, was not cooperating.  It had rained the night before and the morning of the race.  The rain finally stopped just about 5 minutes before the race, but the humidity was suffocating.  It felt like you could eat the air with a spoon.

The race started and I went out like a rocket, with reckless abandon.  I ran the first mile in 5:35!!  Even though there was a slight decline, this was probably a little too fast, although effort-wise, it actually didn't feel that bad.  I knew I was in first place after the first mile, but wasn't sure by how much.

Eventually I reached the half way turn-around point in a blazing 8:52.  I had a great shot to get in the low 18s, or maybe even break 18.  And now that I was turning around, I could see my competition and how much of a lead I had.  But when I turned around I didn't see anyone.  I kept running and still didn't see anyone for a while.  Was I going the right way? Did the other runners get lost or something?  Fortunately, I knew I was going the right way, because there was a volunteer biker leading me along the course.

Finally I saw the other runners coming towards me and the turn around point.  It was probably about 45 seconds before I saw another runner after the turn around point, which meant that I was leading the race by about 1:30!  There was virtually no way I could lose this race.  I wanted to keep running hard, but it is tough to keep pushing yourself when everyone else is so far behind.  I started to slow down, but then decided that I would run hard through the second mile, and relax a bit during the 3rd mile.
1st Place Overall!!

I ran the second mile in 5:58, which I was happy with. My second mile has been kind of slow during my last few 5ks, so it felt good to run one under 6 minutes.  I was at 11:33 through 2 miles, which is on pace to break 18 minutes.  But again, being so far ahead with no one pushing me, it was tough to continue at this grueling pace.  I probably could have run a 10 minute final mile and still won the race.

I did not run a 10 minute mile, but I did ease off considerably on the third mile, and ran a "leisurely" 6:24.  I finished in 18:43 (6:03/mile pace), taking first place overall out of 200 runners!   (Miles for Melanoma 5k Results)  My wife and dog were at the race too, cheering me on.  Right after I crossed the finish line, my wife let go of our dog, Dante's leash, and he sprinted across the finish line to join me in the celebration!  Winning the race felt great.  I frequently place very high, but have not actually won too many races in my life.

My cheering section! (and a random kid)
The Miles for Melanoma 5k was an excellent event, which I would recommend to anyone.  I liked that they gave awards for the top 3 overall, and the top 3 in each age-group in 5-year age categories.  This gave a lot of people a chance to win awards.  Also, it is a fairly fast course if you are looking for a PR.

Now I will continue working on my 5ks with some basic speed workouts (200s/400s/hill sprints) and VO2 max workouts (600s, 800s, 1000s, 1200s, and 1600 intervals at 5k pace or slightly faster). My next race will be the Herndon Festival 5k.  I have finished in the top 10 overall there three years in a row.  But it should be a competitive race, which will probably push me to run faster than I ran in this race, especially in the second half.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lane PTA 5k - May 2013

MAY 2013

2nd place overall!! 1st place 30-39
This was my first time running the Lane PTA 5k.  I want to focus on 5ks for the next month or two, so I was looking for one to race on this early May weekend.  There were several to choose from in the area.  Lane Elementary School is part of the school system where I teach, so I figured this would be a good thing to support.  And when I looked at results from last year, I noticed that the winning time was only a 19:44.  Out of my previous 15 5k races, all but one has been in the 18s - and even the one that was in the 19s was a 19:01 (on a hilly course).  So, if times stayed similar this year, I liked my chances to win the race!

However, I almost didn't run the race at all.  It was pouring rain the night before the race.  My wife and I went out to dinner with another couple that Friday night, and we got soaked after dinner while walking from the restaurant back to the car.  I don't know if I have ever gotten that wet while walking that short of a distance.  I wasn't preregistered for this race, so I decided that I would just see how the weather looked in the morning when I woke up and then make a "game-time decision" about whether I was going to run it or not.  

When I woke up at 6:00, it wasn't really raining, maybe just a little drizzle.  So, I chose to run!  Once I arrived at Lane Elementary School, it really wasn't raining at all anymore.  However, it did feel kind of warm and humid.  I got registered, and ran my traditional one mile warm-up.  I was a little worried that I might get lost in the race.  I expected to win, but one bad thing about leading a race is that you have to know where you are going.  Luckily, I talked to a nice gentleman who had run the race previously.  He told me where the course went, and even where some big hills were.  Big hills? Uh oh!

I lined up for the start, and looking around, I only noticed a couple other runners who might be able to compete with me.  And the race was off!  Several of the Lane Elementary students were running in the race.  One annoying thing about kids in races is that they generally SPRINT all-out for the first 50 to 100 meters, and then just stop.  Not slow down, just stop.  So, the beginning of races with kids can be a little tricky navigating around all the traffic. Today there was a left turn about 50 meters into the race.  The kids all sprinted out as expected, but for some reason, they all turned right!  I was confused, but knew that you were supposed to go left, so I went left.  Someone yelled for the kids to go left too, and they all eventually did.  But luckily, the wrong turn gave me and several of the other faster runners just enough time to get out ahead of the pack and not have to worry about running around/through/over any of the kids.

The race course
I settled into first place and cruised through the first mile in 5:52.  I felt OK, but not that great.  I haven't done a lot of fast speed work yet this spring, so it felt difficult to really accelerate.  The first mile ended with a nice, long downhill on Hayfield Road.  I could hear one other runner not too far behind me, so I picked up the pace to try and run him off.  But it didn't work, as he stayed right behind me.  Then we made a right turn onto Kingstowne Village Parkway, and started a steep uphill climb of almost 1/2 mile, where the elevation increased by about 70 feet.  It really took a lot of energy to get to the top. At the top of the hill, we turned around and went back down.  The other runner was still right behind me as we went down the hill and past mile 2.  My second mile was only a 6:13, but with that steep uphill, I guess it wasn't that bad.

Then we made a left turn back onto Hayfield Road and began another roughly 1/2 mile climb were the elevation increased by over 100 feet!  I wanted to win, but I REALLY started to die on this hill.  I heard the other runner just behind me and was pushing hard to hold him off as we climbed the hill.  I wasn't wearing a heart rate monitor, but I think it was pretty close to my max during this part of the race.  Eventually he passed me, but I refused to give up, and stayed right with him for about another 100 meters.  Then he slowly got further, and further, and further, and further away.  He ended up beating me by about 40 seconds!  I thought he had run a really fast last mile to pull ahead, but when I checked my watch at the end, I realized that what had actually happened is that I had just run a really, really slow last mile - a 6:56!!  That is the slowest mile I have run in a 5k in a long time. But then again, this was probably one of the most challenging 5k race courses I have ever run.  I made the course elevation map below using  The website seems like a good resource if you want to find out the elevation changes for one of your running routes - although many GPS watches will do this for you if you can connect them to a computer.
Course elevation map:  It was one "hill" of a course!!

So, I ended up finishing 2nd place overall out of 96 runners, with a 19:25 (6:16/mile pace).  (Lane PTA 5k Results)  I won a nice medal and a $30 gift certificate to the Metro Run & Walk running store.  This is only the second time I have not finished a 5k in the 18s since the fall of 2011.  But again, I think the challenging course was the primary reason for that.  This was actually my fourth 2nd place overall finish of 2013!  I finished 2nd place overall at the By George 5k (February), the Gainesville 5k (March), and the Run Me Home 5k (April).  Second place finishes are nice, but I think it is time to break through and break the tape with a first place finish soon!

The Lane PTA 5k was a well-organized race on a VERY challenging course with generous awards for age-group winners.  There was a friendly atmosphere amongst the runners, as I talked with several interesting people before and after the race.  And there were also many helpful and friendly volunteers along the way.  I would recommend this race if you are looking for a small 5k that will give you a big challenge.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Run Me Home 5k - April 2013


This was my first time running the Run Me Home 5k. I hadn't really planned on running the race, but my primary motivations were that (a) it was free, and (b) I thought I could win.  

Family portrait!
The race was free thanks to a friend of mine.  He had recently won the Champions for Children 5k in Reston, and one of his prizes was a complimentary entry into the Run Me Home 5k/10k.  He couldn't run it, so he just gave me the entry.  I still wasn't sure if I would do the race though, until I checked the results from previous years.  The 2012 winning time was a 19:22, and the 2011 winning time was only a 20:12.  I should be able to beat that easily, I thought!  The race was also a 5k/10k, which tends to water down the competition and give you better odds of winning an award, especially if you run the 5k. (How You (Yes, you!) Can Win an Age-Group Award). 

I did absolutely no tapering for this race.  It was on the last Saturday in April, and just six days earlier, I had set a new 10k PR at the Pike's Peek 10k.  I also completed a tough 8x600 vo2 max workout on the track earlier in the week. So, my legs were definitely not fresh and springy.  But I figured that since it was free, and I had a good chance to win, it was worth a shot.

The course begins in front of Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg.  The race gets off to a quick start, with a mostly downhill first mile.  However, you climb about 100 feet during a challenging 2nd mile.  The 3rd mile is mostly flat, but there is a fairly steep uphill at the very end.

Run Me Home 5k Course Elevation Map

I arrived at the race about an hour before the start with my wife and our dog, Dante.  My wife did not run the race today because she was doing the Nike Women's Half Marathon the next day - which she crushed, by the way, breaking 2 hours for the first time and setting new PR!  So, her and Dante were just there to cheer me on.  

 The 10k started about 10 minutes before the 5k.  I watched the start of that race before heading over to the starting line.  One of my friends from work was there too, and his wife was running the 10k.  10 minutes later, the 5k race was off! 
My new running buddy!

I went out into the lead, and stayed there for about 3/4 of a mile until one other runner passed me.  Right after he passed me, the course made a left turn onto the W&OD Trail - which he was apparently unaware of.  This race was good overall, but it would have been nice if they had a couple more people along the course telling you where to go.  Luckily I did know that there was a left turn there, so I shouted, "LEFT! LEFT!" to the other runner before he went too far past the turn.  He quickly corrected and I followed closely behind.  I suppose I could have just let him go past the turn, and taken back the lead.  But if I had to win the race that way, I would rather not win at all.  I agree with the late Joe Paterno's sentiment that, "Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won't taste good." 

I finished the first mile in a solid 5:46, but then the 2nd mile climb began.  My goal was to stay close the the 1st place runner, and maybe try to surge ahead of him on the final mile.  But I really didn't run a very strong 2nd mile, with a 6:20.  Although I'm sure the 100 foot climb had something to do with that.  Still, I feel like I shouldn't have slowed down that much.  I want to work on pushing harder in the 2nd mile of my 5ks. Lately, it seems like I am running a fast first mile and then just "cruising" through the second mile, but not really pushing myself.  The good news is that I was still right behind the other runner at the 2 mile mark, and even passed him briefly right after the 2 mile marker.  Unfortunately, he really turned on the jets at that point, and took off.  I ran a 6:02 final mile, which, again, I wish had been a little faster - 5:50 -5:55 would have been nice.  I think the lack of a taper hurt me here. But it wouldn't have mattered much what I ran, because the 1st place runner ended up beating me by 29 seconds.  This means that he ran his final mile in about 5:30! No way I was keeping pace with that.

The final stretch was up a steep hill, and I finally reached the finish line in 18:58 (6:02/mile pace), taking 2nd place overall out of 190 runners! (Race Results2nd place was great, but I actually wasn't thrilled by my finishing time...I want to be down in the low 18s and high 17s eventually this spring.  But given the previously mentioned circumstances, I suppose it was a reasonable effort.
$50 gift certificate!

 I actually beat last year's winning time by 24 seconds, and the winning time from the year before by over a minute, but it just wasn't quite enough this year.  Sometimes racing is just about luck and who does, or does not, show up.  To add to my annoyance, the winning 10k time was only a 39:37!  Generally, in a 5k/10k, the 10k tends to be the more competitive race.  But this time, I actually would have had a much better chance of winning the 10k.  Oh well, 2nd place is still pretty good.  This was actually my third 2nd place race finish this year.  I had previously finished 2nd overall in the By George 5k (February) and the Gainesville 5k (March).  For finishing 2nd place overall at this race, I won a $50 gift certificate to Potomac River Running - not a bad return on investment for a free race!

I would recommend the Run Me Home 5k/10k to anyone looking for a small, not super-competitive race on a mildly challenging course.  It was pretty well organized (other than maybe needing a couple more people on the course showing you where to go), and they gave out nice awards (gift certificates and trophies).  And most importantly of all, they gave out Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits to runners after the race!  Yum!